Osborne 1: Everything You Need to Know

FACTS BOX

Release Date April 3, 1981

Creator Adam Osborne

Original Price $1,795

Discontinued 1983

Units sold 11,000 units in the first eight (8) months of sales

4 Facts About Osborne 1

  1. Osborne 1 was first introduced in 1981.
  2. It has a rugged handle and an ABS plastic case.
  3. Osborne 1 used to be the only computer that could fit under an airline seat.
  4. The computer was regarded as an overnight success.

The History of Osborne 1: What to know

Adams Osborne
Adams Osborne

Released on April 3, 1981, Osborne 1 is touted as the first commercially successful portable computer manufactured by the Osborne Computer Corporation. The portable computer runs on the CP/M 2.2 operating system and is powered from a wall socket.

Osborne 1 was designed by Lee Felsenstein and developed by Adam Osborne. Osborne was an author of computer books before developing the Osborne 1 computer, whose design was primarily based on the Xerox NoteTaker, a prototype developed by Alan Kay in 1976.

Apart from its few brilliant function, the computer was designed majorly for portability, as the developer was particular about its weight and size – they advertised Osborne 1 as the only computer that can fit under an airline seat. In its days, the computer was regarded as “luggable,” especially when compared to other laptop designs.

Osborne 1 was also famously described as “a perfect blend of a shrunken instrument panel of a DC-3 and a World War II radio.” Its portability was amusing as at the time of its release. The Osborne 1 computer also included software, such as spreadsheets, word processing, games, etc.

However, notably, Osborne 1 wasn’t comparatively faster than other microcomputers and doesn’t also have a large or expandable disk storage space. Another drawback of the computer is its tiny 5-inch display screen; most importantly, it was considered expensive for its price.

Despite the drawbacks and evident rapid growth of competitors after the release of Osborne 1, the parent company, Osborne Computer Company, already recorded their first $1 million sales. But this growth was short-lived for a few reasons, some of which you’ll learn in the next section of this article.

The Public Response

Osborne 1 appears to be a huge market hit — in September 1981, Osborne Computer Company had hit their first US$1 million sales month. In the first 8 months since its introduction, 11000 units of Osborne 1 computers were sold. The peak sales per month for Osborne 1 personal computers throughout the product lifetime was 10000 units, despite the initial business plan for the computer predicting a total of only 10000 units sold over the entire product lifecycle.

Osborne 1 Computer
Osborne 1 Computer

Despite early success, Osborne struggled under heavy competition. First, Kaypro Computer offered portables that, like the Osborne 1, ran CP/M and included a software bundle. But Kaypro earned an edge over Osborne 1 by providing a larger 9-inch display.

Similarly, although with seemingly double density, Apple Computer’s offerings had an extensive software library of their own and, with aftermarket cards, could run CP/M as well. IBM’s 16-bit IBM PC was faster, more advanced, and offered a rapidly growing software library, and Compaq offered a portable computer that was almost 100% compatible with IBM’s offering. 

This competition, alongside poor advertisement and product management, majorly championed by Adams Osborne himself, stifled life out of Osborne 1’s sales growth, and soon they began to make massive losses. Unsold inventory piled up, and despite dramatic price cuts — the Osborne 1 was selling for $1295 in July 1983 and $995 by August, the sales still did not recover.

Losses, already higher than expected, continued to mount; the sale of Osborne 1 computers was discontinued in 1983, and Osborne declared bankruptcy in September of that same year.

Adams Osborne emerged from bankruptcy in the mid-1980s and finally released the Osborne Vixen, a compact portable running CP/M, in 1984. However, the company never regained its early prominence.

In the 1990s, Adam Osborne returned to India, the land of his youth, and started up another company dealing with computer software. He died in March 2003.

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